Terrorism is different from military conquest. The terrorist coerces an enemy to change its politics or ideology not by overwhelming its defenses but by inciting fear among its people.
The Sept. 11 attacks certainly qualified as terrorism, and they succeeded in inciting fear. Whether the attacks will succeed in coercing Americans to change their policies or ideology remains to be seen. The Bill of Rights is on the chopping block. But the source of Middle Eastern rage against the United States, the need for a change in policy toward Israel and Israeli Palestinians, is hardly under discussion.
Those same Palestinians have long resorted to terrorism to coerce their government to change its policies. By detonating bombs in public places, Palestinians try to coerce other Israelis into persuading their government to respect the human rights of all Israelis.
The Israeli government responds with retributive terrorism, killing Palestinian civilians who had no personal involvement in the attacks. Government forces bulldoze the homes of family members of alleged criminals. They fire rockets into residential neighborhoods. They shoot children who may or may not have thrown rocks at soldiers. The objective is not to conquer the Palestinians but to intimidate them.
The United States has used terrorism against its enemies. The bombing of North Vietnam had no military purpose beyond demoralizing its people. The economic sanctions against Iraq are aimed not at the Iraqi military but at the Iraqi people in the hope that they will turn their suffering into anger against their government and overthrow it.
More often the United States applies indirect terrorism, helping others conduct terrorist campaigns. The United States trained, supplied and financed the military forces of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and turned a blind eye to blatant cases of terrorism against their civilians. The U.S. government supports Israel in its campaign to terrorize its Palestinian people, politicking against U.N. condemnation, providing billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, never protesting the daily attacks against civilians and the utter disregard for human rights.
Without hope of military conquest, Osama bin Laden is using terrorism against the United States to fight Israeli terrorism that is fighting Palestinian terrorism. By generating fear in the American people, he hopes to coerce them into forcing their government to change its policies toward Israel.
Unable to target the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States is now fighting bin Laden's anti-terrorism terrorism with terrorism against Afghanistan. The bombing of abandoned terrorist camps has no real military purpose, and the bombs are not likely to fall anywhere near a terrorist. A week of bombing surely eliminated Afghanistan's pathetic military targets. The bombing continues against non-military infrastructure. The objective is not to defeat the Afghan military but to make the Afghan people suffer so much that they overthrow their government. If the U.S. terrorist attack works as planned, Afghans will install a new government that respects human rights and turns over all Islamic terrorists to the American savior-terrorists.
Terrorism, however, rarely works as planned. The bombing of North Vietnam destroyed much but demoralized little. Death squads and massacres in Central America spread fear but failed to quell civil unrest. Ten years of sanctions against Iraq has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, mostly children, but brought Saddam Hussein no closer to his downfall. Fifty years of terrorism against the Palestinians has suppressed but not defeated them.
Terrorism against Afghanistan is not likely to succeed either. Attempts to make Afghans suffer will surely succeed, but the intended results will probably stop there. Bin Laden is unlikely to be among the victims. The Taliban is unlikely to surrender its power until defeated by an invading force. No force, however, from NATO to the Northern Alliance, will be able to install a democracy, secure the peace and oust all terrorists.
Terrorism by governments and guerrillas has never led to anything but fear, misery and a sense of martyrdom. Anti-terrorism terrorism hasn't worked for bin Laden, and anti-terrorism terrorism terrorism won't work for the United States.
If we really want to negate terrorism, we should try applying its opposite.
Maybe compassion, respect and generosity can persuade people to change their policies.
Maybe Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King were right and Osama bin Laden is wrong.
Maybe this is a good time to find out.